Lunar New Year: Why is there no year of the cat?

This past Saturday was the start of Lunar New Year, and the start of the year of the dragon! That got me thinking...why is there no year of cat in the Chinese zodiac? (I mean besides the Tiger).

I found there are actually some myths for how the cat got left out of the zodiac. MiaoMiaoKidz includes a story about the Jade Emperor calling for all the animals to have a swimming race in order to be included in the 12 years of the zodiac. At that time, so the story goes, the cat and rat were friends and they made a plan to ride on the back of the ox together. The ox agreed to carry the 2 friends across the river, but soon after they set out, the rat pushed the cat off. The poor cat was so shocked (and probably didn't like water), that he made his way to the the starting line and didn't make it across the river to be a part of the zodiac. The legend also says that it is for this reason that the cat vowed never to trust the rat again! 

Another story (perhaps from the rat's perspective) was shared by In this version, the cat and rat are again friends, and the rat agrees to wake the cat up for the race, but when the morning comes the cat doesn't want to get up and the rat goes on to the race without him. (Too bad the rat didn't try shaking a box of treats - that always gets my cat out of bed!) 

But, even though the cat was not included in the Chinese zodiac, did you know that there is a story of a goddess cat in China? Her name was Li Shou and  PetCareRX says that she would protect the crops from mice and rats (the old enemy of cats!) Farmers would place offerings to Li Shou in hopes that she would favor their farms. says Li Shou was also associated with fertility. 

Worldhistory also mentions a Chinese myth that says in the early days cats were appointed by the gods to oversee the earth and granted the power of speech in order to communicate with the gods. But the cats, in true cat form, were more interested in napping in sunbeams and playing than with running the world! The gods checked in on the cats 3 times and each time were disappointed to find them playing or sleeping. Finally, the cats said running the world was boring and suggested that people seemed more interested in it then they were, so humans were granted the power of speech instead. The story continues to say that since humans still seemed unable to understand the words of the gods, the cats retained the task of keeping time, and that to this day you can tell time by looking into a cat's eyes. elaborates on that by explaining that in the morning a cat's eyes are black with just a rim of gold, by noon they are just black slits on gold, and by night again they are back to being black with a rim of gold. They also go on to say that a cat's purring is said to be the sound of the machinery of the the world moving around the sky and if cats ever stopped purring, the world would stop in the sky, there would be no more seasons and time would come to an end!

Let's hope we can keep the cats happy and purring and therefore keep the world turning for a long long time! 

Thanks to Sandra Gabriel on Unsplash for our cover photo!


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